How much coffee should I use?

Before I became a barista, this is a question I would ask myself every time I tried to make coffee. Most coffee machines or even manual brew methods give you a rough guideline like “3 TBSPs per cup” — but the definition of “cup” varied by preparation, and how should I know if it should be a level TSBP or heaping? Knowing how much raw coffee material to use to get that perfect cup was a constant challenge.

Then, I went to coffee school. As it turns out, coffee is a little bit more science than art. In our classes, we learned the coffee industry has standards for brewed coffee based on research into the preferences of real people – study participants were served coffee brewed to different specifications and recorded their tastes, ending up with a range of acceptable brews that guide the industry to this day.

Key to this brew range is the ratio of coffee to water. Use too much water, and you could end up with a weak and, ahem, watery cup; too little and you’ll get closer to coffee sludge. While the extremes are fairly obvious, it’s in the nuanced close-to-perfect range that brewing gets a little trickier. In our classes, we learned the range for most peoples’ taste lies in the ratio of 1 oz water to 1.5-1.75 grams of coffee. That means if you use 8 ounces of water in your brew method, you should plan to grind between 12 and 14 grams of coffee. Some people like their coffee a little stronger or weaker and will vary on either side of the range, but this is a helpful starting point.

Using this range as a reference, the next (possibly obvious) piece is weighing and measuring your ingredients. Use a regular kitchen scale to weigh out your coffee before brewing, then break it out again when you add the water to make sure you hit your ratio. Keeping variables like this constant allows you to play around with grind size and brew time to find the cup that suits your tastes. In my recipe for French press, I use 1.75 grams of coffee per ounce of water – for my 18oz press, that’s 31 grams of coffee (freshly ground on a coarse setting). For Aeropress, I go a little lighter, using 13.6 grams of coffee for 8oz water.

And in case this is all sounding like a little too much work for your everyday cup of joe (or you don’t have access to a scale), keep in mind that you could always set your ratio once – measuring how many scoops equals 31 grams – and leave the scale on the shelf next time. For reference, I just weighed out a level tablespoon of my beans at 8 grams – if that helps!

Finding the ratio that works for you, combined with the right grind size and brew time, will ensure you get a great cup every time.

What’s your recipe for a perfect cup?

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